Tampico Affair

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Tampico Affair
Date April 9, 1914
Location Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico
Result United States occupation of Veracruz
Belligerents
 United States Mexico Mexico
Strength
9 sailors ~10 infantry

The Tampico Affair started off as a minor incident involving U.S. sailors and Mexican land forces loyal to General Victoriano Huerta during the guerra de las facciones phase of the Mexican Revolution. The misunderstanding occurred on April 9, 1914, but would fully develop into the breakdown of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and the occupation of the port city of Veracruz for over six months.

In the midst of the Mexican Revolution, de facto head of state Victoriano Huerta struggled to hold his power and territory intact against the challenges of Emiliano Zapata in the south and the fast advance of the opposition Constitutionalists of Venustiano Carranza in the north. By March 26, 1914, Carranza's forces were 10 mi (16 km) from the prosperous oil town of Tampico, Tamaulipas. There was a considerable concentration of U.S. citizens in the area due to the immense investment of American firms in the local oil industry. Several American warships commanded by Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo were posted in the area with the stated purpose of protecting American citizens and property.

The incident[edit]

By the spring of 1914, diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Mexico were strained. President Woodrow Wilson refused to recognize the presidency of Mexican General Victoriano Huerta who had been installed as president the previous year after Huerta and the conservative rebel, General Félix Díaz signed the Pact of the Embassy with the approval of the American ambassador Henry Lane Wilson, and who had since been removed by President Wilson.[1] The instability caused by the ongoing Mexican Revolution threatened American lives and economic interests in Mexico.

As Tampico was besieged by Constitutionalist forces, relations between U.S. forces and Huerta's federal garrison remained amicable. The American naval force — with only the gunboat Dolphin, due to the navigational constraints of the shallow harbor entrance — presented a 21-gun salute to the Mexican flag three times on April 2 1914, to pay tribute to the celebrated occupation of Puebla in 1867 by Mexican General Porfirio Díaz in the last phases of the French intervention in Mexico.

U.S. battleships steaming toward Veracruz following the Tampico Affair.
Inset: Appearing in the photograph (left to right): Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander of U.S. forces during the Tampico Affair; Rear Admiral Frank F. Fletcher, who commanded the landing to seize Veracruz; Vice Admiral Charles J. Badger, Commander of U.S. Atlantic Fleet in 1914.

The situation between the U.S. and Huerta deteriorated on April 9, when Mexican authorities mistakenly arrested eight U.S. sailors at Tampico, Mexico in what came to be known as the Tampico Affair. The commander of the Dolphin arranged for a pickup of oil from a warehouse near a tense defensive position at Iturbide Bridge. The defenders of the bridge anticipated an attack, based on the two consecutive days of skirmishes that had immediately preceded. Nine U.S. sailors on a whaleboat flying the U.S. flag were dispatched to the warehouse along a canal. Based on the sailors' account, seven of them moved the cans of fuel to the boat while two remained on the vessel. Mexican federal soldiers were alerted to the activity and confronted the American sailors. Neither side was able to speak the other's language, which left the sailors immobile in the face of commands from the soldiers. The Mexicans raised rifles against the Americans, including the sailors still on the boat, and ushered the men to the nearby Mexican regimental headquarters.

The commander of U.S. naval forces in the area, Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo, demanded a 21-gun salute and formal apology from Huerta's government. General Huerta, the President of Mexico, ordered the release of the sailors within 24 hours and gave a written apology. However, he refused for Mexico to raise the U.S. flag on its soil to provide a 21-gun salute. As a result, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for permission for an armed invasion of the area. Although this request was granted two days later, the United States occupation of Veracruz had already begun.

USS Truxton and Whipple at Mazatlan, April 26, 1914, keeping watch on Mexican gunboat Morales (two-funnel ship in background)

President Wilson backed Mayo and ordered an increase in U.S. forces in Mexican waters. On April 18, USS Iris, Lieutenant Allen B. Reed, commanding, tender for the Pacific Fleet First Torpedo Flotilla, USS Cheyenne, Lieutenant Kenneth Heron, commanding, tender for the Pacific Fleet Second Torpedo Flotilla and submarines USS H-1 and USS H-2 departed San Pedro, California for San Diego.[2] On April 22, Iris and five torpedo boats USS Whipple (DD-15), USS Paul Jones (DD-10), USS Perry (DD-11), USS Stewart (DD-13) and USS Truxton (DD-14), of the Pacific Fleet First Torpedo Flotilla, Lieutenant Commander Edwin H. Dodd, commanding, departed San Diego for Mazatlan.[3]

On April 22, President Wilson received the backing of Congress for the use of military force to resolve the conflict with Huerta. However, the day before he ordered the Navy to seize the port of Veracruz, which was preparing to receive a German ship loaded with ammunition intended for Huerta's troops. This message was relayed to Rear Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher who commanded the squadron lying off the port. With the battleships USS Florida (BB-30), USS Utah (BB-31) and the transport USS Prairie (AD-5) carrying 350 Marines, Fletcher received his orders at 8:00 AM on April 21. With impending poor weather conditions, Fletcher moved swiftly and requested that the Canadian consul notify the local Mexican commander, General Gustavo Maass, that Fletcher's landing parties would be taking control of the Veracruz waterfront. Under orders not to surrender, Maass mobilized the 600 men of the Mexican 18th and 19th Infantry Battalions, as well as the midshipmen at the Mexican Naval Academy. He also began arming civilian volunteers. Mexican legislators criticized the U.S., and mobs burned the American flag and looted American businesses in Veracruz and western Mexico.

Just before 11:00 AM, a landing party of 500 Marines and 300 sailors commanded by Captain William R. Rush of Florida went ashore. Meeting no resistance, the Americans landed at Pier 4 and moved towards their objectives. The Navy bluejackets advanced to take the customs house, post and telegraph offices, and railroad terminal while the Marines were to capture the rail yard, the cable office, and the power plant. Establishing his headquarters in the Terminal Hotel, Rush sent a semaphore unit to the room to open communications with Fletcher.

While Maass began advancing his men towards the waterfront, the midshipmen at the Naval Academy worked to fortify the building. Fighting began when a local policeman, Aurelio Monffort, fired on the Americans. Killed by return fire, Monffort's action led to widespread, disorganized fighting. Believing that a large force was in the city, Rush signaled for reinforcements and Utah sent its landing party ashore. Seeking to avoid further carnage, Fletcher asked Canada to proxy a truce with the Mexican authorities. This effort failed when no Mexican leaders could be located.

With the likelihood of further casualties from further incursion into Veracruz, Fletcher ordered Rush to hold his position and remain on the defensive through the night. During the night of April 21-22 additional American warships arrived bringing reinforcements. Overnight Fletcher determined that complete occupation of Veracruz was necessary. Additional Marines and sailors began landing around 4:00 AM, and at 8:30 AM Rush resumed his advance with ships in the harbor providing gunfire support.

Striking near the Avenida de Independencia, the Marines assaulted from structure to structure to neutralize resistance from the Huerta forces. On their left, the 2nd Seaman Regiment, led by USS New Hampshire (BB-25) Captain Edwin A. Anderson, made its way up Calle Francisco Canal. Relying on misinformation that his advance had been cleared of snipers, Anderson failed to send out scouts and marched his men in parade ground formation. They encountered withering fire from the Mexicans, and numerous casualties forcing them to retreat their position. With supporting naval gunfire, Anderson resumed the attack and seized the Naval Academy and Artillery Barracks. Additional American forces arrived through the morning and by noon much of the city had been taken.

In the fighting, 19 Americans were killed 72 wounded. Mexican losses were around between 150 and 170 killed with 195-250 wounded. Snipers were active until April 24 when Fletcher declared martial law. On April 30, the US Army 5th Reinforced Brigade under Brigadier General Frederick Funston arrived and took over the occupation of the city. While many of the Marines remained, the naval units returned to their ships. While some in the United States called for a full invasion of Mexico, Wilson limited American involvement to the occupation Veracruz.

Meanwhile, on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, U.S. Naval units were monitoring the fight between Huerta's forces and the rebels as they protected American citizens and interests. In Ensenada, Mexico, U.S. consul Claude E. Guyant and 250 American citizens were forced to seek safety in the American consulate building as Mexican authorities were powerless to control anti-American demonstrations that had erupted on April 23. Guyant cabled Washington, "Have taken refuge in consulate. Situation critical. Send warship immediately."[4][5] Cheyenne arrived at Ensenada with orders to protect American lives at any cost, including capturing the port if necessary. Iris en route to Mazatlan, diverted course to Ensenada to assist Cheyenne. [6][7]

While the situation had calmed somewhat by April 25, Cheyenne sortied to evacuate Consul Guyant and other Americans from Ensenada to San Diego in late April 1914.[8] Ultimately the U.S. army transport Bisbee sailed from San Francisco in early May and made stops at numerous ports on the west coast of Mexico to pick up American refugees. Iris picked up numerous American refugees during May 1914, including the U.S. Consul at Acapulco, Clement Edwards.[9] By May 4, 1914, 71 navy ships operated in Mexican waters.[10]

Battling rebel forces, Huerta was not able to oppose it militarily. Following Huerta's downfall in July, discussions began with the new Carranza government. American forces remained in Veracruz for seven months and finally departed on November 23 after the ABC (Argentina, Brazil and Chile) Powers Conference mediated many of the issues between the two nations.

The U.S. occupation of Veracruz lasted until November 1914, and was a primary cause of Huerta's resignation in August of that year as his southern armies' supplies ran out. The Tampico incident had later repercussions, however, stemming from the lingering U.S.-Mexican resentments. These were taken advantage of by Germany in January 1917 when the so-called Zimmermann Telegram intimated that a Mexican alliance with Germany against the U.S. would result in Mexico regaining territory taken from it by the U.S. in prior wars. British interception of Zimmermann's telegram was effectively the final justification President Wilson needed to request a declaration of war against Germany in April 1917. [11]

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